Sunday, June 2, 2019

Making the most of screen time: recommendations for families

- Jennifer Middleton, MD, MPH

With the academic year wrapping up, planning for the summer months is a reality for many American families. While planning for vacations and other away activities is often paramount, considering in advance how to spend days at home can be equally valuable. Setting expectations and limits on screen time at the beginning of the summer break can set families up for success in encouraging physical activity and good sleep habits.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends no screen time for children younger than ages 18-24 months and limiting screen time to one hour of “high-quality programming” for children aged 2-5 years. For older children, the AAP advises setting limits that are consistent with “your family’s values and parenting style.” Engaging in media use with children and teens is preferred to unsupervised use, and families are discouraged from placing televisions, computers, and video game consoles in children’s bedrooms. Parents and guardians can use a Family Media Plan tool to develop personalized screen time expectations.

Last summer, the American Heart Association (AHA) also weighed in on screen time recommendations, publishing a scientific statement in Circulation describing concerns with increased sedentary behavior, obesity, and future health risks linked to excessive screen time. The authors cited data showing that adolescents who exceed two hours of screen time daily are 1.8 times more likely to be obese (odds ratio 1.82 [95% confidence interval 1.06-3.15]); this study also found that “screen time is a stronger factor than physical activity in predicting weight status in both children and adolescents.” The AHA has similar recommendations as the AAP regarding screen time use: set time limits, keep screens out of bedrooms, and engage in media together as a family.

You can find more recommendations from the AAP, including specifics about social media safety for teens, at this website. A wealth of parent and patient education materials is available at’s Media page, including advice about when to give children their first smartphone, identifying age-appropriate media, and combating cyberbullying. The American Academy of Family Physicians' website also offers a helpful patient education handout on healthy habits for TV, video games, and the Internet.